TOKYO -- The seven-year-old Japanese boy who went missing nearly a week ago after his parents left him in a forest as punishment was found unharmed Friday in an army training ground hut, police said, in a case that had set off a nationwide debate about parental disciplining.
Appearing outside the hospital the boy was taken to after he was found, his father apologized and vowed to do a better job of raising him.
"We have raised him with love all along," said the father, Takayuki Tanooka, who along with the boy's mother had made him get out of their car as punishment on Saturday. The couple told Japanese TV news that they left him in a forest, reputed as ridden with bears, and when they returned several minutes later he had vanished.
"I really didn't think it would come to that. We went too far," Tanooka said. He added, "I thought we were doing it for my son's own good."
The boy was found Friday morning by a soldier in a military drill area on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido. The boy identified himself as Yamato Tanooka, the name of the boy who went missing, police said.
A military officer, speaking on the national broadcaster NHK, said the boy was found when a soldier unlocked the hut, about three miles from where he disappeared.
The boy told police he had been in the drill area for several days after walking alone in the forest.
The boy suffered some dehydration and was getting intravenous fluids, but besides some minor scratches on his arms and feet, no serious risks to his health were found, a medical doctor who had examined him was quoted as saying by Kyodo.
More than 180 rescuers, including troops, had been searching the area.
The boy's plight riveted the nation, highlighted in daily news, and setting off some soul-searching about appropriate punishment.
Asked what he had told his son, the boy's father, blinking back tears, said, "I told him I was so sorry for causing him such pain."
Although Japan has a reputation for spoiling children, pampering them and not being strict about manners, the culture also is not as progressive in promoting the individual human rights of children, common in the West, traditionally viewing children almost as property of the family.
Abandonment and child abuse are far more common in Japan than the stereotype of the doting parent and stay-at-home mom would suggest.
The parents reportedly told police they had punished the boy for throwing rocks at people and cars while playing at a river earlier in the day.
According to Japan Times, there have been dozens of bear attacks and deaths on Hokkaido since 1962, when the government started keeping records of them. The bears on the island are closely related to the grizzly bears found in North America. They can reportedly grow to well over six feet tall, and weigh more than 650 pounds.